The operations of infrastructure conglomerate GMR Hydro Power Ltd have been stopped for making use of forest land for its upcoming mega hydropower project in Himachal Pradesh till the state gives a green signal in this regard, said a National Green Tribunal (NGT), a judicial panel, order.
"GMR Hydro Power is converting forest land for non-forest activities bereft of a formal order passed by the state government under section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) Act of 1980," the NGT said in its order dated January 23.
The company is developing run-of-the-river 180 MW Bajoli Holi project in Bharmour subdivision, some 70 km from Chamba town.
The company aims to commission the project by January 2018.
"The state has not issued a formal order after stage-II clearance was granted by the ministry of environment and forests on October 26. We feel it's a fit case where the state should be directed to do so," said justice A Suryanarayan Naidu and justice V R Kingaonkar while hearing a petition of the project-hit villagers.
Ritwick Dutta, counsel for petitioners, said in the absence of formal order passed by the state government under the forest act, no person should be permitted to convert or use the forest land for non-forest purpose.
"Moreover, the state is not strictly bound by the clearance granted by the ministry of environment and forests, and if occasion arises, may vary," he said.
Directing the state government to apply its mind and pass orders at an early date, the judges said: "Status quo as on date shall be maintained by all the parties till then."Defence counsel said the stage-II forest clearance was granted and as such the rest of the paraphernalia were only ministerial in nature in the project proponent had a right to proceed with the preliminary work.
The hydropower project has been awarded to GMR Hydro Power by the state government on build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) basis for 40 years from the date of commissioning.
The upcoming projects in Himachal Pradesh -- in private and public sectors -- will not only damage natural resources and affect livelihoods but also use up a considerable chunk of forest and agricultural land, argue locals and green activists.